Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New York Times: Review: Opera Matters, and the Met Just Threw a Party to Prove It [Eric Owens and Pretty Yende in Gershwins' "Porgy and Bess"]

From left, Renée Fleming as Thaïs and Plácido Domingo as Athanael in a scene from Massenet’s Thaïs; Joyce DiDonato in the title role of a scene from Rossini’s “Semiramide”; and Eric Owens and Pretty Yende as the title characters in a scene from the Gershwins’ ”Porgy and Bess” during the 50th Anniversary at Lincoln Center Gala. Credit Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera 
The New York Times
Every once in a while, an institution gets a chance to hit a reset button. In the midst of myriad challenges — struggling attendance, changing entertainment habits, donor fatigue, looming labor negotiations — that’s what the Metropolitan Opera did on Sunday evening.
In a five-hour gala concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of its palatial theater at Lincoln Center, with a captive audience of its most devoted patrons, the company essentially took the opportunity to change its narrative. Enlisting three dozen star singers, excerpts from 29 operas and a stage full of vintage film footage and uncanny projected evocations of classic productions, the Met made a case for its centrality — not just artistically but also civically, not just in the past but also in the future. It was a long evening, but the stakes could hardly be higher: This, the performance seemed to say to an auditorium full of donors, is why we matter.
It was a party with a message, but a party nevertheless. A real bash.
And it felt like a homecoming: Whatever its flaws, this house truly has been a home for both artists and audiences from around the world.
Thanks to the inventive work of the designer Julian Crouch, the performance was a de facto production. Most of the singers wore costumes; using elaborate projections, by 59 Productions, Mr. Crouch created scenic designs that evoked imagery from notable past and current Met stagings. The evening also touched on the early history of the house, through videos that showed President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the groundbreaking ceremony for Lincoln Center in 1959, as well as a charming look at the painter Marc Chagall working on the murals that grace the front of the house.
The company avoided mention of the complex issues surrounding the origins of Lincoln Center. When it was conceived, the center was presented as a visionary plan to clear out what some urban planners considered blighted Manhattan neighborhoods to make room for a cultural oasis. That these neighborhoods were largely populated by poor people of color who would have to relocate to make room for the Met and its sister buildings was not an overriding concern, and for decades — at least until an extensive redevelopment a few years ago — the complex seemed like a cultural fortress closed to its surroundings.

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